November 9-10 commemorates the anniversary of Kristallnacht, the Night of Broken Glass, when mobs attacked Jewish synagogues and businesses in Germany and Austria on those dates in 1938, murdering and maiming thousands of Jews in the process. To memorialize and commemorate this descent into the moral abyss, Congregation Or Shalom holds an annual event commemorating those individuals who were “Beacons of Light in the Darkness”, according to Rabbi Alvin Wainhaus, spiritual leader of the synagogue. This year, Congregation Or Shalom honored Mr. Carl Laemmle, President and founder of Universal Pictures, who in the last years of his life personally lobbied the White House, senators and anyone he could reach to save Jews from Europe, and who personally signed affidavits of sponsorship and support for over 250 individuals who were thereby saved from the Nazis.
Professor Thomas Doherty, Professor and Chair of American Studies at Brandeis University, provided an inspiring and informative lecture about Carl Laemmle, known to many as “Uncle Carl”, showcasing him as a person who did what he knew was right when others around him–including the United States State Dept. and others in high places–ignored the problem growing in Germany. Immigration into the United States was very difficult at that time. Individuals were required to have sponsors who agreed to provide shelter, clothing and support for individuals permitted to enter the country.
The Adult Education Committee at Or Shalom brought in Carl Laemmle’s grand-niece Rosemarie Hilb and her children, who were presented a citation from the United States Senate by Connecticut’s Senator Richard Blumenthal in honor of Mr. Laemmle’s good deeds. The Committee also located several individuals who either were themselves personally saved by Carl Laemmle’s affidavits or whose parents/grandparents were saved by him. It was an emotional event for those individuals saved by Carl Laemmle acknowledged that they might not even be here today without his actions.
Other “unsung heroes” honored in previous Kristallnacht events include Irena Sendler, whose story of how she smuggled Jewish babies out of the ghetto and found them homes during the war is told in the book “Life in a Jar.”